“It’s never over. I just have to be careful that I don’t slip back into the world of the troll.”
“Back in 1993, at Porter Square, I was ‘stemming,’ which means panhandling near the Dunkin’ Donuts, when I saw a woman selling a paper and calling out, ‘Spare Change, Spare Change, Help The Homeless.’
“My curiosity got the best of me and I asked her about the paper.”
I asked Marc Goldfinger, longtime area poet and maestro behind the pioneering Cambridge-based Spare Change News, to dig way back. His story is outrageous, and also happens to be the inspiration behind his latest book, Tales Of The Troll: Junkies, Angels & Demons.
“The paper was brand new at the time; the first issue came out in May of 1992 and was a monthly paper. Anna told me all I had to do was go to the Old Cambridge Baptist Church and, in the basement, there was a guy named Jerry who I should speak to and he’d give me a badge and 10 free papers to sell for one dollar apiece.
“After they were sold, I should go back there and buy papers for 10 cents (cheap) and go back out and sell. I was a junkie (heroin addict) at the time and I figured this was a better hustle than just asking for free money. And it worked great.
“By 1pm I had enough money to buy a couple of bags of junk and get more papers to sell. Most people were very generous at that time and gave me more than a dollar. Some said, ‘Here’s a dollar; keep the paper.’ I realized that, in my best interests, it was better for them to take the paper and get a customer rather than a dollar and ‘I’ll never see him again’-type situation.
“I was married at the time and my wife was a real hustler with the paper. Unfortunately, she was a real consumer and used dope recklessly and liked to mix her junk with cocaine, known as a speedball at that time, and because of the way she used, she is no longer with us. That came as a blow but it was expected. I brought her back to life at least 10 times but, one day she was using by herself and God had other plans for her.”
As you can tell from his introduction, Goldfinger doesn’t fudge and mudge. Knowing there were more responses like that one in store, we threw him a whole bunch of questions, including about his new project.
What is your role with Spare Change at the moment, and how would you describe the paper at this point? What should people know?
My role with Spare Change News at this time is multifaceted. I’m still a vendor but I hardly ever sell papers. Basically I write regularly for the paper and I’m on the board of directors.
COVID-19 gave the paper a hard hit and we could use all the help we can get, so if you like the paper, or just want to help the paper and the vendors it serves, please make a tax-deductible donation. We put out the paper every other Friday but because of getting slammed by the plague, at this time we only put it out once a month.
As things seem to get better, more and more vendors are trickling back and we hope for a major resurgence with the organization. It’s a really good organization and keeps people who don’t fit in the regular work world making money so they don’t have to resort to criminal behavior to survive. By the way, Spare Change News was one of the major factors that got me free of drugs. That’s a big deal.
Many of the people who actually put the paper out work for practically nothing in return; they just want to help people who are financially challenged. They work diligently and put in many hours that they don’t get paid for.
Beyond Spare Change, what are some of your literary and poetry projects from over the years? Have they primarily been rooted in addiction?
Back to me personally, Spare Change News brought me back to my true love, which is writing poetry and stories. Once I got clean my output increased exponentially and I sold books on the street while I was peddling the papers. These were books I wrote and paid for to get printed.
I also began to get published by various papers, anthologies, and other street papers, winning a few awards in the process. I used to think that I couldn’t write unless I was high, but I came to find out that once I stopped using drugs my writing improved and I became more prolific.
How creative were you back when you were using hard drugs?
When I was younger I was very creative while using drugs, but as I deteriorated, my writing fell by the wayside. Drugs took away everything I thought I was receiving from them. There were still some classics that I wrote while buzzing, but I like my current writing much better because it’s totally under my influence.
What’s the background of this current project? How long did it take you to write it and why was it so important to finish it?
I have two recent projects that I completed over the last few years. One is called Heroin’s Harbour and is a book of short stories and poems about the life of a drug addict. I still remember how I thought when I was using because the addict is still in me even though I don’t use anymore. That book, along with my newest book called Tales Of The Troll: Junkies, Angels & Demons are both up on Amazon and Amazon.co.uk besides being available from me and Lulu.com. They were both published by Ibbetson Street Press and with the help of Steve Glines and Doug Holder. Tales Of The Troll: Junkies, Angels & Demons is two novellas combined into one giant related tale. All the heroes are junkies, angels, and demons(really). I don’t think there’s anything else like it.
You know I have to ask, who do the characters most represent?
This book has a lot to do with climate change and with the hopelessness of many people who use heroin because they feel it is the end of the world, as we know it. Many of the characters are pulled from real life; I’m in there; friends are in there; and the spirit world is represented by Ar Lain Ta, who is the Imp God of the poppy fields; and other gods, goddesses, and supernatural characters. Even Frankenstein makes an appearance in more than one chapter.
I think you’ll be able to relate to him. I certainly can. The characters represent life and death and if you read carefully, you’ll see people who were part of the Cambridge/Boston scene.
Tell us a little bit about Mel Burns and his involvement.
Then there is the artist, Mel Burns, who did the drawings for all the stories. He was extremely talented and his heartbeat contained love for all of the characters. Even though Mel Burns is not a character in the book, he can be found on the pages. He finished the last few drawings while he was in hospice and I devoted a page to him with a self-portrait that he drew.
Also, if you want to know how an addict thinks, this book is a primer on that thought world. Yes, this is the Big Book that I needed to get off my chest and I worked at it for over 10 years, writing and re-writing about these folks who lived inside me and dared to play with death while being my friends and lovers.
I certainly am relaxed now that this book about addiction, humanity, ecology and climate change is finished but you know, a writer is never done until the last breath. If you could ask Mel Burns, I think he’d agree with me on that.
Finally, is this the big book that you needed to get off your chest, and now you can relax? Or is there more to come?
Here I am, at the age of 75, happily married and drug free; still writing. It’s never over. I just have to be careful that I don’t slip back into the world of the troll. That’s me too.
And I’m still doing poetry readings on Zoom. Wow, that sounds speedy, even though I don’t like speed. Anymore, that is.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.